Jose Aldo's first fight in Las Vegas was more than 12 years ago: a WEC featherweight title bout against Mike Brown on Nov. 18, 2009.
The WEC held a series of open workouts that week inside Palms Casino Resort, and the 23-year-old Aldo shed tears as he addressed the media. For an impoverished kid from Sao Paulo, Brazil, the sight of his own face on a Las Vegas billboard was overwhelming.
On Saturday, Aldo (30-7) will make his seventh appearance in Las Vegas when he takes on Rob Font (19-4) in the main event of UFC Fight Night.
The 35-year-old Aldo is a living legend in the sport, a former champion whose longevity is already something to admire. Back in 2009, when Aldo defeated Brown to become the WEC champion, it began a reign that would transition to the UFC and last through nine title defenses until his dethroning in 2015. When Aldo's run at the top of the sport began, his opponent for this weekend, Font, was literally delivering pizzas to make ends meet and hopefully pay his way into community college.
That is how long Aldo has been competing at the highest level of MMA.
When a fighter is that successful for that long, the questioning inevitably turns to: How much longer can he do it? Aldo has faced that question for the past several years. He lost six of nine bouts from 2015 to 2020, four of those defeats coming by knockout. At one point, he talked about exiting the sport at age 30.
However, in his past two fights, Aldo has looked like a fighter with plenty left to give. He soundly defeated two ranked opponents in Marlon Vera and Pedro Munhoz. And if you look closely at his record, with the exception of one narrow loss to Marlon Moraes, Aldo has lost only to current or former UFC champions. The best of the best.
Aldo has reached that unavoidable point in his career at which doubt follows him everywhere. Whether it's fair or not, it's easy to understand. Even the best fighters in the world struggle to maintain dominance at the very top throughout multiple eras. In that sense, the odds are stacked against Aldo.
The question of when it will all come to an end will probably continue to follow Aldo beyond this weekend, even if he's able to defeat Font, who is riding a four-fight win streak. But those doubts might follow Aldo right back into another UFC title fight in 2022, because quietly he has situated himself not too far from one at the moment.
Watch UFC Fight Night: Font vs. Aldo on Saturday on ESPN and ESPN+. The main card starts at 10 p.m. ET and the prelims at 7 p.m.
The numbers matchup: 5 vs. 5
5 for Font: He is seeking his fifth straight victory, which would tie Font with former champion TJ Dillashaw for third-longest active win streak in the men's bantamweight division, one behind reigning champ Aljamain Sterling and ranked contender Merab Dvalishvili. Font also is seeking to become the sixth fighter with 10 UFC men's bantamweight wins (Dillashaw 13, Sterling 11, Raphael Assuncao 11, Urijah Faber 11, Marlon Vera 10).
5 for Aldo: This is his fifth bout at bantamweight after he fought at featherweight in his first 14 career UFC appearances. A win would give Aldo his first three-fight win streak since a career-best 18-fight win streak ended in 2015 with a loss to Conor McGregor.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
The last time we saw them ...
Font beat Cody Garbrandt by unanimous decision in May:
Rob Font peppers Cody Garbrandt with strikes throughout their main event fight at UFC Fight Night.
Aldo beat Pedro Munhoz by unanimous decision in August:
Jose Aldo and Pedro Munhoz delight the Houston crowd with a bantamweight classic in the co-main event of UFC 265.
And the winner is ...
"Aldo is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a damn good one out of Nova Uniao under coach Andre Pederneiras," said Sayif Saud, head coach at Fortis MMA. "It might be hard for him to get Font to the canvas, though. [Cody] Garbrandt took Font down, but Font got right back up. Still, you don't want to underrate Aldo's well-roundedness. That may play a factor if things get into a scramble."
Check out how Saud and other experts break down the main event and predict a winner.
Ian Parker's best bet
Rob Font vs. Jose Aldo: In his last outing, we saw the Aldo get his second victory in a row with a unanimous decision over Pedro Munhoz. Many expected Munhoz's pressure and ground game to be too much for Aldo, but that was not the case. Aldo's calf kicks, striking output and overall boxing game proved to be the correct blueprint to get the job done. Unless Aldo surprises us all with a takedown early in Saturday's fight, I expect this to be a standup battle from start to finish. Since 2018, Font has put together a four-fight win streak and continues to get better in each fight. In his last performance, a decision over Cody Garbrandt in May, Font showed us he can go five rounds with a blistering pace that would give any opponent trouble. As good as Aldo continues to be, I believe that at this point of both men's careers, it's Font's time to shine. Font will be the better boxer, and if he can avoid the calf kicks of Aldo, I believe his output and precision will get the job done. Pick: Font to win at -140.
How to watch the fights
Watch the main card and prelims on ESPN: Download the ESPN App | WatchESPN | TV
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Stream the fights on ESPN+. Don't have ESPN+? Get it here.
There's also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.
Saturday's fight card
ESPN/ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET
Men's bantamweight: Rob Font vs. Jose Aldo
Lightweight: Brad Riddell vs. Rafael Fiziev
Lightweight: Clay Guida vs. Leonardo Santos
Light heavyweight: Jimmy Crute vs. Jamahal Hill
Middleweight: Brendan Allen vs. Chris Curtis
Welterweight: Bryan Barberena vs. Darian Weeks
ESPN/ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET
Middleweight: Maki Pitolo vs. Dusko Todorovic
Welterweight: Jake Matthews vs. Jeremiah Wells
Men's flyweight: Manel Kape vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Strawweight: Cheyanne Vlismas vs. Mallory Martin
Light heavyweight: Alonzo Menifield vs. William Knight
Lightweight: Claudio Puelles vs. Chris Gruetzemacher
Welterweight: Alex Morono vs. Mickey Gall
Men's bantamweight: Louis Smolka vs. Vince Morales
ESPN's Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this fight preview.